The 4 worst ever car recalls: The numbers

Date Posted 10th October 2019
Read Time 8 min read

Problems. Every car has them; they’re unavoidable. However, faults with vehicles are usually a way for dealers to make money by repairing them.

Most car owners complain about the price of fixing their motor with a dealer, especially if they have an expensive model like a BMW or a Bentley.

And although niggly repairs and faults with cars are annoying, they usually don’t warrant a recall.

A recall usually happens when a regulatory body or manufacturer feels there’s a reasonable concern for driver safety.

In the event of a recall:

  • The manufacturer loses millions or billions.
  • The company reputation is damaged.
  • Customers are often left confused, angry, and in some cases, injured or fatally wounded.

In this blog, we’re going to pick our worst ever car recalls by numbers, including estimated company cost and the number of cars recalled.

  1. Various Manufacturers & Cars – Takata Airbags

Although Takata wasn’t a car manufacturer, they supplied a part that is critical to driver and passenger safety – the airbag.

In the UK, the airbag is considered a secondary safety measure to the seatbelt but has become a common feature in the modern car. In America, it’s a legal requirement.

In 2013, it was reported that Takata airbags were unsafe and could be responsible for 100 accidents and thirteen deaths.

This led to 3.6 million cars being recalled in 2013. In 2014, BMW, Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, and Toyota announced they would recall over three million cars worldwide.

The airbags were known to explode and cause debris to shoot around the car as a result of an accident.

In some cases, the outcome of an accident was catastrophic, and the airbag became a direct cause of death.

A Malaysian woman died when she was hit by another driver while driving her Honda Civic. A fragment from a ruptured airbag flew into her neck, she was pregnant, and her child died three days later. The total worldwide death toll is thought to be 24.

Cars are still being recalled in 2019, with an Australian consumer watchdog urging car owners not to use up to 20,000 vehicles.

The cost of human life, financial implications and the scale of the manufacturers affected make this the biggest ever car recall.

Manufacturers affected: 35.

Cars recalled: 42 million to date.

Financial impact: Takata went bankrupt and were sold to Key Safety Systems for $1.6 billion (£1.3 billion). In 2017, Honda estimated that the repairs would cost them around £4 billion, but there have been more cars recalled since then. Also, this estimate doesn’t consider the financial impact on other manufacturers.

  1. Ford – Texas Instruments Cruise Control

Speed control was invented in the 1940s and continued to evolve throughout the late 1900s. It’s a handy tool for those who want to reduce fuel consumption, prevent fatigue over long drives or avoid speeding fines.

Ford installed cruise control in their cars as early as the 1970s but faced critical problems in the 90s and 00s when cars were recalled because of a faulty deactivation switch – provided by the manufacturer Texas Instruments.

In 1995, Ford recalled 7.9 million vehicles because of a faulty switch that could cause fires in parked vehicles that had the engine turned off. The reason for this being that the switch was powered or hot at all times.

However, Ford was still using the switch in 2005, or some variation of it made by Texas Instruments.

As a couple slept, their Ford Explorer sat in the garage, it caught fire and burned their house down killing their cat. A fire inspector confirmed it was the Explorer’s deactivation switch that had caused the fire.

An Iowa man also sued Ford after his wife died in a fire he believed was caused by the deactivation switch.

He claimed Ford knew the switch was faulty and withheld a recall for fear it would damage company profits.

In a further twist, Ford recalled 4.5 million vehicles in 2009 for precisely the same reason – a problem that took over ten years to solve.

Ford stopped using the switches in 2003.

Cars affected: Mark VII/VIII, Taurus/Sable and Taurus SHO 2.3 L, Econoline 1992-2003, F-Series, Windstar, Explorer without IVD, Explorer Sport/Sport Trac, Expedition, Ranger.

Cars Recalled: 14.9 million.

Financial ImpactFord didn’t disclose.

Here’s a video from 2008 showing a suspected cruise control defect, which resulted in a fire.

  1. Toyota – Faulty Window Switch

Does anyone remember the old method of putting your windows up and down? Rotating the crank handle as your windows jammed and shuddered – struggling to prize it free in the freezing cold.

Toyota owners must have thought this problem had been solved, as electric windows replaced these handles in the 90s and 00s.

They were wrong. In 2012, Toyota recalled 7.43 million vehicles because of a faulty power window component that posed a fire risk, and in 2015, a further 6.5 million cars were recalled.

Fortunately, it didn’t pose the same risk as the Ford cruise control deactivation switch, but it did mean the company had to recall a lot of cars and the recall damaged their public image. No accidents or deaths have been recorded.

The company explained that due to an uneven application of grease during the switching process, windows could feel sticky in operation.

The owner may have applied a lubricant which caused the fire to start.

Toyota repaired the cars at no extra cost to the car owner, dissembling the switch and applying a special grease.

Cars Affected: Yaris, Auris, Corolla, Matrix, Camry, RAV4, Highlander, Tundra, Vitz, Belta, Ractis, Ist, Corolla Rumion and Sequoia as well as Scion xB and xD.

Cars Recalled: 14 million.

Financial Impact: A senior analyst from BNP Paribas estimated the cost to be around £114 million, although Toyota refused to share the exact amount.

  1. Toyota – Floor Mat Issues & Jammed Accelerators

If you’re a driver, you’ve probably felt your floor mat creep forward and interfere with your clutch, brake or accelerator pedal at some point. You probably swiped it back with your foot and carried on driving, then purchased a safer floor mat.

Toyota thought this was all they had to do when they recalled 55,000 all-weather rubber floormats in 2007. There had been reports of the mats sticking under the driver’s pedals because they weren’t clipped into place. Sounds like a simple repair job.

Fast-forward to 2009 and four people were killed in a car accident in San Diego, where the same mat had become trapped under the accelerator.

The brakes showed signs of the heavy compression applied as a result of the trapped accelerator.

The accident gained a lot of exposure after authorities received a 911 call right before the car crashed.

A couple of months later, Toyota issued a recall for 3.8 million vehicles and told all Toyota car owners to replace the all-weather mats.

They issued the following statement:

  • The accelerator pedal will be shaved to reduce the risk of floor mat entrapment.
  • All-weather floor mats will be removed and replaced with a newly designed mat.
  • A brake override system, which cuts engine power if both the accelerator and brake are detected as pressed, will be installed.
  • A replacement pedal with the same shape as the modified pedal would be made available at a later date.
  • For drivers who have existing all-weather floor mat but do not need or want the newly designed all-weather floor mat, the existing mat will be removed and the owner reimbursed.

However, floor mats and pedal adjustments were only the tip of the iceberg for Toyota, and in 2010 they had to recall four million vehicles because the accelerators on their cars were prone to sticking.

What was worse is that Toyota received complaints saying pedals were sticking when cars didn’t have floor mats and had chosen to avoid the issue.

From 2000-2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had received 6200 complaints about unintended acceleration and linked 89 deaths to the problem.

The manufacturer proposed a repair for the pedals and resumed production in 2010. In terms of deaths, this is one of the worst ever car recalls.

Cars Affected: Avalon, Camry, Corolla, Highlander, Matrix, Prius, Tacoma, Tundra, Venza, RAV4, Sequoia, Aygo, iQ, Auris, Yaris, Verso, Avensis, Lexus ES 350, Lexus IS 250, Pontiac Vibe.

Cars Recalled: 9 million.

Financial Impact: The company had to settle lawsuits for $1.1 billion (£900 million) and projected losses of $2 billion (£1.6 billion) overall.

How Do Recalls Affect the Automotive Industry?

The impact on the industry depends on various factors like media coverage, lawsuits, the cost of the recall operation and the public image of the company.

For big manufacturers like Toyota and Ford, the short-term impact is withstandable. If a smaller manufacturer were to receive a large number of recalls, the cost could destroy them.

Here’s how manufacturers are affected by recalls:

  • Brand reputation is usually tarnished when recalls are linked to accidents or deaths.
  • Older cars are less likely to damage a manufacturer’s image as they aren’t ‘on trend’.
  • If customers already have high expectations, the fallout can be worse.
  • Used vehicle prices and sales may drop, especially in the most affected areas.

In the UK, Watchdog research has led to calls to tighten recall laws to protect consumers, although major manufacturers continue to operate relatively unscathed.

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